DROUGHT has played a major part in the growth and development of the Victorian dairy operation of Locky Hemphill.
The Kyabram, Vic, dairyfarmer was speaking as part of the DairySA Central Conference at Tailem Bend earlier this month, saying challenging times could often present opportunities.
The operation, which is run by parents Peter and Gayle Hemphill, and siblings Will, Kate and Locky, began in 1982 with 65 cows.
Locky said the first major turning point in the operation was during the 2001-02 drought.
"Water was never an issue until then," he said.
My uncle says 'when everyone else is walking it's time to run'.
Without irrigation, Locky said they faced working without an income or completely changing what they did.
"We dried off pastures that had been irrigated every summer for 26 years," he said.
"For Dad it was challenging mentally, as it was so different to what he had done."
They shifted to a feed pad, growing corn, lucerne and buying in cereal hay, growing to milking 300 cows.
The next drought and turning point was in 2009-10.
Will and Locky were looking to return to the family farm, which meant they needed to expand.
This was during a time when hay was $450 a tonne, and water costs were also escalating.
"My uncle says 'when everyone else is walking it's time to run'," Locky said.
So they bought a second farm and another 300 cows.
Within one month of settling into the farm, it started raining.
Within three months, the value of their cows had nearly doubled, while they also had calves on the ground.
A few years later, they again shifted to forage, instead of leasing land to grow grain.
"It worked in a good season but in a dry season, it left us exposed," Locky said.
They would have the expense of leasing and input costs but still had to pay $400/t for grain, he said.
These days, they assess where the grain price was heading in July and put contracts in place, is a similar system for water allocations.
Locky said: "The risk is, what if it rains? But one thing is for sure, (prices) will come down slower than they went up."